Profile - Sandeep Khosla: The Long-distance Man

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | July 28, 2010
Khosla, who is now the CEO, publishing, for Infomedia18, has had the longest innings at The Express Group. He shares his experiences in the publishing stream

Two decades ago, Sandeep Khosla's business card would have white ink masking the word junior in his designation. "I'd try to hide it," he smiles remembering his first, rather reluctant, foray into sales.

After graduating in Arts from the University of Kanpur, Khosla returned to Mumbai when he got to know about an opening at India Book Distributors. After six months, Khosla heard that the Indian Express Group was looking for people. 'Smart and having good command over English' was all that was required. Khosla was hired in the sales team as junior business executive. The 'salesman by accident' was to stay there for 22 years.

& #BANNER1 & #He was hired to work on the Overseas Appointment page and spent three months surveying the market. In six months, the page was ready to launch. In the next two years, he was heading sales for the domestic as well as overseas appointments page.

In 2000, he was given the responsibility of national sales for all the Group's publications - Indian Express, Financial Express, Loksatta and Screen. When Khosla quit six months ago, his role was that of a virtual CEO of the Group's Business Publication Division (BPD). Did he ever think of moving in all those years?

"I was doing well, there were timely promotions, the remuneration was good and I had the freedom to do things my way," he says, by way of answer, though there was a time when Zee was about to launch and he saw an opportunity. His bosses stopped him, saying that they wanted him to focus on a new project.

In 2002, he was promoted as head of the BPD. "It was exciting to put a division, which had been neglected for a long time, back on track," he says. BPD had publications such as Express Hotelier and Caterer, Express Travel and Tourism and Express Pharma Pulse. The problem was that each of them had totally different mastheads and did not look like part of the Express Group.

Khosla and his team hired an agency to redesign the publications, so that they had a common design template where the Express brand name was clearly visible. Express Hotelier and Caterer became Express Hospitality while Express Pharma Pulse became Express Pharma. Every aspect -- from circulation, brand management, space selling to production -- was revisited. They also started organising events, exhibitions and awards around each of the publications.

"Handling the entire portfolio opened up a new picture, because you are responsible for controlling costs as well as increasing revenue." Turnover rose from Rs 7 crore to Rs 22 crore, at the time he left.

How did he, as a salesperson, view the editorial-sales divide, especially with the Express Group's stand on editorial integrity? "We would close deals with big advertisers such as MTNL, only to be threatened that they are withdrawing because of an article," he grins. But the publication stuck to its guns each time.

Khosla expresses amazement at how 'space selling' has changed, "Getting advertising in the late '80s depended on how well you knew the agency guy and how well you could brag about the publication to him (it could be done over a few drinks). In the '90s, with media planners and buyers coming into the picture, one had to equip oneself with presentations and numbers."

Some months ago, when nothing 'new' was happening, Khosla became fidgety. When the Infomedia 18 opportunity came by, he took it. Khosla's mandate is to oversee every aspect of the publications business -- product design, sales, distribution and circulation of the Group. And how is he planning to do that?

"All the brands, be it Overdrive or Entrepreneur, are poised to grow. My task is to see how to exploit synergies between these and the Network18 brands," he says.

About Infomedia 18's profitability problems, Khosla shares, "The publishing division cumulatively has shown profitability in the last quarter. However, some of the titles are not as profitable as others. The intent is to enhance the profitability margins going forward."